After more than 30 years of debate, Dallas Area Rapid Transit is set to move forward on the $1 billion Cotton Belt commuter rail line.
A DART Board vote is scheduled next week.
The 26 mile line would provide direct service from Plano to DFW Airport. DART purchased the railroad corridor a generation ago. Plans now call for construction starting next year and operation by 2022.
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“I think it would benefit this neighborhood,” said Plano resident Albert Harris, looking at Cotton Belt plans for the first time.
His is the closest home to a proposed Cotton Belt station. Harris said it would help visitors reach churches in his neighborhood and provide an alternative to driving to DFW Airport.
“It would be a cool ride, I think,” Harris said.
It comes none too soon for the Town of Addison where a segment of the Cotton Belt rail track runs through a bus transit center.
“And we’ve been waiting for 35 years,” said Addison Mayor Joe Chow. “Since 1983, we were promised to have light rail service.”
Instead of light rail trains with overhead power wires that DART operates on existing transit lines, the Cotton Belt commuter trains would use diesel powered electric engine cars without a locomotive. It is similar technology to the Denton County Transit Authority’s A Trains.
DART Spokesman Morgan Lyons said the Cotton Belt plan calls for improved noise and emission reduction technology.
“We’ve learned a lot, watching systems around the world and watching systems in our own back yard to make sure we’ve got the best and most current technology available for customers along the Cotton Belt,” Lyons said.
Even with what are called “betterment” features to improve the appearance and access to the rail corridor, many North Dallas neighbors remain opposed to the Cotton Belt commuter rail plan, according to Dallas City Council Member Sandy Greyson.
She said there is no room for a proposed station at Preston Road and Dallas neighbors oppose the planned Coit Road station, too. Dallas leaders want both stations deleted by DART at next week’s meeting.
Plano Special Projects Director Peter Braster said his City Council would like the Coit station to stay in DART’s plan to serve Plano residents.
“What the Council said was, ’Yes, we would prefer the Coit station be built, but if you’re not going to build the Coit station, please provide ample parking at the next two stations,” Braster said.
Big new development has already occurred or is in the works at many of the planned Cotton Belt stations, from east to west.
-Shiloh Road - The eastern end of the Cotton Belt would have a large park and ride lot to serve people from adjacent suburbs. And employees from the west could access neighboring businesses around Shiloh Road. “There’s light industrial and office work and some high tech jobs, as well,” Braster said.
-12th Street - DART plans to add a platform overhead on the light rail Red Line at Plano’s second Cotton Belt station for transfers to the Cotton Belt track below. The site of the Plano Marine business on 12th Street has been sold to a developer for a new apartment complex beside this joint Cotton Belt/Red Line station.
-CityLine - The Cotton Belt line crosses Richardson’s City Line development at another joint stop with DART’s Red Line. State Farm is a huge corporate tenant at City Line. Hundreds of apartments have already been built there with restaurants and businesses. More development is planned.
-UTD/Synergy Park – The second Richardson station is adjacent to the University of Texas at Dallas campus where development is already expanding toward the planned rail station. A large parking garage is proposed, which could help make up for eliminating the Coit Road station in Dallas.
-Knoll Trail – The City of Dallas wants this station preserved in DART’s Cotton Belt plan. It would serve the Galleria Area and be the closest connection to the Midtown Project, a major planned redevelopment of the former Valley View Mall area.
-Addison Transit Center – A special area study is underway for the best use of Town of Addison owned land adjacent to the transit center. Mayor Chow said the land is just out of the flight path of the Addison Airport so high rise development is an option. “We would like the best developer to do the right project,” Chow said.
-Downtown Carrollton – Cotton Belt trains would connect at Downtown Carrollton with DART’s Green line, which connects further north with DCTA trains to Denton. Transit related development has already occurred in Downtown Carrollton and the city expects more, Mayor Kevin Falconer said.
-North Lake/Cypress Waters – The Cypress Waters development surrounding North Lake in far Northwest Dallas is already home to large corporate offices will soon be the North American Headquarters for cell phone company Nokia. Apartments, stores and restaurants are under construction in a lakefront development.
-DFW Airport Terminal B – Cotton Belt commuter trains would share this station with Tex Rail trains from Fort Worth that begin service later this year. A DFW North Station just outside the terminal would also be a transfer point for Cotton Belt passengers continuing west on Tex Rail’s Fort Worth Service.
The new regional commuter rail service to DFW Airport adds to DART’s Orange Line light rail service from Downtown Dallas that started in 2014.
“That really helps this region stand out and be much more competitive on a global stage as it looks to expand mobility within the region,” Lyons said.
Plano provided $12 million cash along with a donation of land to DART to help entice next week’s Cotton Belt approval.
“It will be under construction by 2020, that’s for sure,” Braster said. “I think it is a big deal. I think anytime you give people mobility options, that is a benefit to everybody. And that is one less car on the freeway and we can’t build more freeways.”
A 2016 resolution approved by the Dallas City Council made the Cotton Belt the lowest of 3 priorities with a new Downtown light rail subway and better bus service first. The City of Dallas replaced its appointees on the DART board who did not support the Dallas priorities. At that time Dallas was told both the Cotton Belt and the subway could be completed at the same time.
The Cotton Belt commuter rail project would be funded with a federal loan through the Federal Railroad Administration.
The so called “D-2” subway plan for an alternate light rail path through downtown requires grants from the Federal Transit Administration, a separate agency of the US Transportation Department.
Now DART has said federal funding required for a subway has been delayed by the Transit Administration and D-2 completion will be pushed back until 2024.
“The City feels it was a promise made,” Greyson said.
Cotton Belt supporters in the suburbs hope their project will move forward next week despite the D-2 delay.
“I think we can do both and that’s what we’re supporting,” Plano’s Peter Braster said.
“We’ve been patiently waiting, waiting, waiting,” said Addison Mayor Chow.
The DART Board vote on the Cotton Belt is set for Tuesday, August 28 at 6:30pm at DART headquarters, 1401 Pacific Avenue in Dallas.